Confined in nature – Pura vida

De camino a Costa Rica
On our way to Costa Rica !
28 March, 2020
Confined in nature - Pura vida

Confined in nature – Pura vida, There we were, gently moving up and down on the waves on a serene day. Three red travel bags packed with some clothes and our survival gear, several medium sized black rubbish bags and a zipper bag filled with shells on Onna’s lap… 

The temperature is high, but a soft breeze keeps our bodies from sweating. A few tears run silently down our cheeks. We glance at each other knowingly. No words occur to us, but no words are needed. We are absorbed by the thoughts and the emotions we feel inside of us. It’s like a whirlwind of emotions, a mix of vivid memories and feelings. 

When we arrive at the shore, I feel like I am awakening from a beautiful dream. All the things we’ve experienced in the previous 57 days of self-isolation seem so surreal that I can hardly believe they are reality, confined in nature – Pura vida

On the 16th March we arrived in San José, Costa Rica. Our friend Vero waited for us at the airport and together we drove to her apartment in a rental car. In Spain, the Covid-19 had already spread widely and many people were confined in their homes. In Costa Rica there had been only 2 or 3 cases before the date of our arrival, but we expected that the amount of people affected by the virus would grow rapidly. Our race, the Volcano Ultra Marathon had been cancelled and we suspected that our lives would soon be restricted, but that was exactly the reason why we had decided to travel to Costa Rica in a hurry, skipping our visit to Peru. If we had to come to a halt, we wanted it to be here, surrounded by the beauty of this exotic country. 

We stayed one night in Vero’s apartment and then we drove to a small fishing village in the south of Costa Rica called Golfito. It’s situated close to Panamá on the Pacific Ocean. It was a 6-hour drive taking the alternative route along the mountain ranges of el Cerro de la Muerte. In Golfito we met Albert, Vero’s friend and over the next three days we stayed with him at his parents’ house. 

Whilst we were thinking and planning what to do next, he showed us several trails in the surroundings of Golfo Dulce.

At first, we thought we could set up a personal challenge: Coast to Coast or Sea to Sea for example. Then, we felt that it wasn’t a good time to be moving and we discarded the idea. Instead, we planned to go into self-isolation by going back to nature. This was to become our challenge. 

We bought provisions to survive for at least 21 days and went looking for a suitable spot. We wanted to be in the jungle, close to the sea and completely isolated from human civilization. 

On 20th March we spent all day driving, searching, but without any success. 

The next day we went on board a small boat and searched along the beaches of Golfo Dulce. On one of the previous days Albert had shown us a rather inaccessible jungle path which led to a beach and we wanted to find a suitable place to stay close to this path. The beach it led to appeared deserted and stretched for about 2,5km. 

We got off the boat with our provisions, pans, two small tents, some clothes, a plastic cover, a rope, a cutting knife and a fishing line. We said goodbye to Julen, who went back to Golfito to finish editing the second episode of Rolling Mountains, before starting to put up the tents. One and a half weeks later Julen would join us again assuming the virus hadn’t reached Golfito.

The climate in Costa Rica is tropical and especially in the southern parts it is very humid. In the place we had decided to settle, the lowest night temperature was 26 degrees and the highest day temperature 36 degrees Celsius with humidity above 90%, which is normal for this time of the year. Usually in the afternoon it rained for a while. Being fully aware of this, we knew that we had to build a cover for our single layer tents and for a sitting corner where we could also light our fires for cooking.

Our first roof was built with bamboos tied together with pieces of the rope we had brought along. We made a cover for this construction by weaving big palm leaves into the upper part of it. On top, we put the plastic cover and again some palm leaves to keep the cover in place. Later, we reinforced the upper part with a triple amount of bamboo and just used the plastic cover on top without weaving palm leaves into it.    

We went looking for some bigger branches to sit on and made a “sitting area” around the place where we would build our fires. Also, we collected dry kindling sticks from the stony beach for our afternoon fire. The sun burns hard on these stones and at midday all the drift wood which the sea brings along at high tide is always completely dry and easy to burn. I went looking for two big stones and created a stove from an iron piece of scrap which the sea had brought along. I also found a grid which was ideal for covering the iron frame. Now, we were all set to cook our first meal   

The next couple of days were used adapting to and learning about our new living environment. We had to establish a new routine and we discovered that the easiest thing was to live from dawn to dusk and from tide to tide.

 

We started our days at 0515 when it was bright enough to move around without headlights. At 1800 it became dark and it was time to enter our tents. Without daylight, the chances of getting bitten by a snake were much higher and also, there were so many insects that it wasn’t easy to relax sitting outside. The best way to stop sweating at night was to cool your body down with water for several minutes until the body temperature dropped a little. By 1830 or 1900 we had usually fallen asleep.

In the first few days we had to adapt to our new, limited environment. It was a strange feeling to be restricted to remaining in one place without moving. However, our nomadic life took up a lot of our time and our days soon became filled with routine tasks.

On a typical day we had to complete several basic tasks. The first one was to light a fire for our morning coffee. Pere doesn’t have a coffee in the morning, but Julen and I definitely need a big black cup of coffee to wake up well and to get started! I actually didn’t have a big cup, but instead I used the very small cup from our thermo and took several cups of coffee.

Normally, I am the first one to wake. I love listening to the music of the jungle when the night turns into day. Every morning when it started shimmering, the howler monkeys said goodbye to the night with the loud cacophony of their whooping roars. Then, as the sun’s first rays welcome the day, they withdrew slowly, together with the darkness of the night. Their calls can be heard from a distance of up to 3 miles, so you may be able to imagine how loud it sounds when they are right next to your tent! 

When daylight arrives, a large variety of birds start to tweet happily and from amongst all the other birds and insects, the hummingbirds take the first nectar produced by the many colourful exotic flowers. Every day, whilst heating up the water, I observed hoards of beautiful birds and listened to their singing sounds. More and more the air is filled up by all sorts of insects buzzing and sizzling through the air. Sometimes, I saw the last raccoons returning to their holes and the toads hopping back to their hideaways. Especially on bright and sunny mornings, the parrots or “lapas” sang their best version of their favourite sounds. There were many of them living in the trees at the edge of the jungle and soon we discovered that their screaming squawks, and chirps are an expression of their happiness.

Whilst I observed and experienced all these beautiful things, I sometimes had a hard time lighting the fire. As I mentioned before, the humidity was high and all the wood was damp in the morning and so it didn’t burn easily. The first couple of days I managed to light the fire with pieces of toilet paper and very thin kindle wood. Then we discovered that the natural string fibres from the coconut palm sheaths caught light and burnt very easily, so we started using them instead. 

When the water was hot, we brewed the coffee in our travel kits and had breakfast. 

After breakfast it was time for fishing, training and filming. Fishing was a task which Pere took charge of. We discovered that the best fishing time was dependant on the tide. Roughly speaking, at high tide it was more productive to fish from the shore. Many small fish are disorientated by the currents and drift towards the shallows. This means that the slightly bigger fish arrive to hunt them closer to the shores and therefore, for us it was easier to catch them. 

We had to organize our time according to our survival priorities. So, if the tide was high during the early morning, we chose fishing over training even though in between 6 and 8 it was the coolest time to train (only 26-29 C)  

Another good way to fish was from a kayak. We were lucky to have one available and so we could reach some of the places where the medium sized fishes tended to hang around during the day. The best way to catch those fish was to get close and to do a sprint right in front of them. Pere’s tactic was to tie the fishing line to his sandal and when he felt a fish biting his bait, he stopped sprinting and quickly caught up the line. The fish he caught were mainly “bonitos”, “jurel amarillo”, “barracuda” and “ojones”. Whether we had fish for lunch or dinner, it was necessary to roast them within a couple of hours, otherwise they would go bad. Remember that we didn’t have electricity, so no refrigeration and the climate in which we were living caused most foods to decay in very little time. Any food we wanted to conserve, we had to reheat every 5-6 hours. Only plain rice lasted longer. 

In the first month of confinement the mornings were most likely to be sunny and therefore it was appropriate to charge our cell phones, gps watches and headlights with our travel solar panel. Cell phone charging was an almost daily task, but the charge in our watches (Garmin’s Fenix Sapphire) and our headlights (Fenix) lasted for two weeks or more, luckily.

The next important task was to collect kindling wood. The best time to do this was from about 11:00 until 13:00. Even if it hadn’t rained overnight, all the wood was damp in the morning because of the high humidity in the air. By 11:00, most wood in the open areas had been dried by the strong sun and it was time to collect enough sticks to make fires for lunch, dinner and breakfast in the next morning. It was a matter of watching the sky in order to get the driest kindling wood. A safe way was to collect enough wood at around eleven (just before preparing lunch). But on cloudy, shady days it was much better to wait until the last moment to get the driest wood possible. It was a risk to wait though, because rainfall comes very suddenly in Costa Rica. Only a minute or two of wind indicate that it is about to rain and when the wind begins to blow constantly, you are almost certainly too late to go looking for any dry wood. 

On a normal day, we tried to prepare a hot meal for lunch at 12:00. Me or Julen usually took charge of this task. We had the choice of boiling rice, pasta or quinoa and most days our preference would be rice. Then we roasted the fish and heated some water for a cup of coffee. If we didn’t have any fish, we ate eggs, black beans or tuna to get our daily dose of protein. 

Pere usually had a nap in the afternoon and I cleaned up, washed clothes, played with Onna or relaxed. In the afternoons we also had time for training (running, core, injury prevention, strength), playing (Onna) and filming. Then it was time to make a fire again to get the dinner ready and to have a final wash to cool down before entering our tents.   

Soon we got used to our nomadic life and we learned to love it! Our first camp was the most basic one. We lit our fires on the ground and we sat either on the ground or on some uncomfortable branches. Our tents were based right next to the beach and the noise of the waves was very loud. Also, it was difficult to keep our tent insect free and to stay safe from the carnivorous Army Ants. These ants are restless creatures that constantly undertake “ultra-trails” through the jungle. They will kill and eat or take home any insect or small animal which is unfortunate enough to be in their path. When a swarm of Army Ants is passing through, you can observe all kinds of insects or small animals fleeing and if you don’t watch out, they’ll bite you too. Ouch! It hurts a lot!! 

We took our drinking water from the beach or went up in the jungle to take it from the streams. Golfo Dulce isn’t called the “sweet gulf” for nothing. There are plenty of underground currents that come to the surface in various places. At low tide, drinking water flows down in little streams from half way up to the beach towards the sea. You can just kneel down and drink it directly from the little streams. It is an unbelievable but fantastic phenomenon!

Some days after our arrival we made contact with Don Agustín, an indigenous person who lived in a very humble way, completely in harmony with nature. He looked after a plot of land owned by American biologists. Our first real contact with him was when he came up to us with some delicious papayas from the trees around his shed. He didn’t use many words but we felt his friendship and were very grateful for his good neighbourliness. Another day he gave us bananas and some days later he opened some young coconuts with his machete, so we could drink the fresh coconut water.

He also indicated to us a place with a basic toilet and a water supply, where we could wash our dishes or clothes and ourselves. 

The first month we spent living in this precarious way with little contact with any people. 

We did discover that there were some more people living near the beach. Sometimes we saw people fishing or walking along the coast. We reckoned that there were about 6 or 7 families or couples in total. Slowly, we let go a bit of our social distancing mood and made contact with a family who had a baby and an 8-year-old daughter called Kristtel. Onna and Kristtel got on well and became very good friends.

Then, the government of Costa Rica implemented further restrictions to prevent the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus. The sanitary measure which affected us directly was the country wide mandatory order to close access to all Costa Rican beaches. Common sense told us that we couldn’t do any harm by fishing or running on our deserted and inaccessible beach and living within the 150m of land next to the sea which is defined as beach. Nevertheless, we moved slightly more into the jungle, to the place where we had been washing. This became our second camp. 

A funny anecdote which I would like to mention was that a few days after the new restrictions were implemented and we’d moved deeper into the jungle, we were on television in the Spanish news concerning our particular Swiss Family Robinson alike confinement. The news fragment showed images of us whilst drinking water directly from the beach and of our first camp close to the temporary prohibited beach. One of the Spanish channels on which it was broadcasted could also be seen in Costa Rica and consequently, the images of us at the beach caused some confusion to the Costa Rican media. The news fragment was picked up by the tabloid journalists and an edited version was emitted which depicted us as some kind of stray people who were not complying with the restrictive measures. This alarmed the Costa Rican government and they sent out the coast guards with an order to take us to the embassy in San José. We explained to them our story and showed them our camp. Fortunately, they fully understood our situation and left again without making us leave our place of self-isolation.    

Our second camp was a scary, uninviting place at first sight. It was a big wooden house, built like a tree house, with an open entrance and open windows. Nobody had lived in it for many years and it looked shabby. The ground floor had a concrete base and upstairs there were two bedrooms with an open living room, a kitchen area and the old neglected toilet which we had been using. The house was occupied by a colony of bats, which mainly hung in the bedroom areas during the day… comically.

When dusk set in, the bats woke up and flew swiftly and chaotically around the whole house. We pitched tents on the concrete floor, because we felt that the house was owned by the bats and we were only there as guests. We didn’t want to disturb them. In fact, we avoided going upstairs as the combination of the shanty look and the bats hanging around created a ghostly atmosphere, which made us feel uncomfortable. 

We preferred to deal with the spiders, ants, mosquitos, stinging flies, etc downstairs.

However, we soon got used to the flying bats at dusk and even to their nightly eating habits with the accompanying sounds. At night, the vegetarian fruit-eating bats carried back some kind of nuts to the upper floor where they ate the edible part. Then they dropped the rest of it, making a loud banging noise on the wooden floor. At first it scared us, then it just woke us up and finally our ears were able to ignore the noise and we slept through it. 

In this second camp we had a relatively luxurious stay in our perception. We had an old wooden table and stools to sit on. This made a big difference compared to sitting on the ground. Also, some days after installing us here, Don Agustín brought us the metal carcass of a stove. Thanks to having this piece of equipment we were able to light a fire in a standing position instead of kneeling down on the ground.    

In this camp, the sound of the waves was softer, but the nightly open-air toad concerts were a lot louder. Some toads were actually living in our building, so their throaty and deep croaking sounded very near.   

Costa Rica is a country of huge biodiversity. Approximately 34% of the country consists of protected territory dedicated to conservation. We were based close to the national parc of Piedras Blancas which has a great variety of wildlife. Don Agustín told us that he had once seen a puma passing through his terrain. We believed him, but thought it was a once in a life experience to see a puma as they are very shy animals which usually don’t reveal themselves to people. We didn’t expect to see one during our stay. However, towards the end of our confinement it did happen! Pere had a beautiful face to face encounter with a real puma! He saw him during our personal challenge, a twelve and a half hours ultrarun on A jungle path which I will write about later on. They met in the early afternoon when Pere was ascending the path. The elegant animal was standing on the path and for a moment they looked at each other. Then Pere made a noise and told the puma in a loud voice “attack me if you want!!” He had been running since sunrise at 6:17 and was feeling fatigued. His mind must have been desperate to find a way to stop running and suffering…

One of the other highly impressive animals we saw was the caiman. Soon after our arrival we discovered that they were living right next to us at a distance of 200m. Their habitat was some small freshwater lakes partly hidden in the woods. There were bigger adult caiman and tiny young ones. They usually lurked beneath the water’s surface or made themselves invisible to the human eye in the muddy areas next to the water. At first, we were alarmed about living close to the caiman, but Don Agustín told us that they weren’t a direct danger for us, unless we stepped into the waterways. I loved watching them and we went regularly to observe them, mostly in a “frozen” position. The lakes were also the habitat of the big mud turtles. They did wander off the lakes sometimes and twice we spotted one crossing slowly in front of our camp. 

There were also four kinds of monkeys in our living environment. The howler monkeys, the white-faced capuchin monkeys, the Spider monkeys and the Squirrel monkeys. It was lovely and fascinating to watch them moving cunningly from branch to branch high up in the trees. The monkeys had young ones too. The mummies carried them around on their backs without losing any of their agility.  

Apart from the scarlet macaws and hummingbirds, there were a huge amount of exotic bird species. They were all beautiful and unique in their way. Maybe the one which impressed me most was a black bird with a big bright florescent red spot on both sides of his chest. Red is my favourite colour and I’ve seen many varieties of it, but sincerely I didn’t know that such a bright tone of red could exist!

Furthermore, we were surrounded by all kinds of iguanas, lizards, butterflies, frogs and other small animals. The most outstanding ones were the bright green frogs which we mainly saw in an immobile position, moving with the wind on a green leave; the rainbow coloured lizards, and of course the big blue morpho butterflies!  

During our training sessions we saw many agutis, wild turkeys, squirrels and on several occasions, peccaries, raccoons, white-nosed coatis and toucans. We also saw several different kinds of snakes, many of which I am unable to name. Whilst running I’m always mindful and observant about finding a snake on the trail. I like seeing them, but I don’t want to step on them, especially if it is a venomous snake. 

I was lucky to run into a huge neotropical bird eating snake. This is one of the biggest snakes one can find in Costa Rica. Another day, Pere and I followed a long and elegant snake close to the water. It moved beautifully and we were able to film it with our GoPro. Maybe someone will recognize it in the next episode of Rolling Mountains… 

Concerning Onna, we taught her to be very careful about snakes and never to go anywhere on her own. After dusk we always went to “bed” (we slept on thin yoga mats), so the chances of Onna meeting a snake were relatively low.  

Once I saw an anteater, which was an amazing encounter which resulted in a moment of understanding. In Spanish this animal is called oso hormiguero, which means ant eating bear. I had always wondered why this animal was known as a bear, but when I saw him walking it became completely clear to me. This animal moves exactly as a bear!

Maybe the best animal experiences were the occasions when a group of dolphins swam near the shore and we could watch them moving gracefully through the water. Once, we went out into the sea in the kayak together with Onna to see them up close. This was an immense and absolute spectacular experience! 

Now we were living closer to Don Agustín, we saw him more regularly and had some contact with his wife. Some days, their 5-year-old granddaughter called Verena was there too, which gave Onna another friend to play with. Don Agustín and Pere shared a lot of pleasant fishing moments together which deepened the sense of real, unconditional friendship we felt for him. Once, we invited them for dinner and shared a pleasant evening together on the concrete below the wooden house.  

In the meanwhile, Onna’s friendship with Kristtel had become well established and the girls wanted to play together as much as possible. We had to closely supervise the girls (in case they fell out of a tree, were bitten by a snake or stung by an insect, etc) whilst spending time with Kristtel’s parents Olman and Yorlenny, who taught us a lot about edible plants and animal behaviour. One day they invited us for lunch in their beautiful little house. They prepared for us a wonderfully delicious meal consisting of the “banana ceviche” as a starter, a variety of fresh vegetables and a vegetable chicken rice as a main and an elaborate pineapple dessert with “dulce de leche” to conclude. They are all typical Costa Rican dishes. We wanted to give them a taste of Spanish cuisine too, so some days later we invited them to a Spanish tortilla with the traditional Catalan “Pa amb tomàquet”.  

When we were toasting the bread, we realized that we didn’t have any plates on which we could serve the dish. In fact, we only had 3 small plates to eat from… Olman gave us an ideal solution. He disappeared with his machete and a minute later he came back with some banana leaves. He cut them the right size and sterilized them by holding them close to the fire for a short moment. Then they could serve us perfectly as natural and decorative plates. 

There were several fruits, plants and herbs we could use in our cuisine. One could find plenty of edible sweet-tasting and colourful flowers, green leaves, wild cilantro, papayas, mangos, “manzanas de agua” or Malay apples, avocados, pineapples, different types of bananas and lots of coconuts!

Soon, we discovered how to crack the exocarp, the outermost layer of the coconut, in a natural and easy way and to tear off the fibrous husk. Then, it was a matter of knocking the endocarp with a stone on the weaker part of it all the way around. The coconut would break in two halves and we could drink the coconut water and/or eat the coconut flesh. Sometimes, when the coconut is mature there is a sweet, nutritious, spongy mass in the middle, called coconut apple. You can eat it raw and it’s absolutely delicious! 

Onna.

When we decided to confine ourselves by going back to nature, we were not the least bit concerned about the educational effect it might have on our 5-year-old daughter Onna. We’ve always tried to let her experience and explore her natural environment by spending time playing freely with natural elements like sand, mud, sticks, shells, insects, crabs, or to climb, jump, balance or run around on the rocks, in a forest, on a glacier, field, dunes, etc.  

Nature is a diverse environment and gives children a great variety of opportunities to connect with it and to play creative and spontaneous games.  

In fact, studies show that there are numerous benefits of being outside. These include muscle development, learning through observation, experimentation, reflection, spontaneous play, etc. Children who spend time outside in nature tend to achieve a better physical and emotional health and more self-confidence. Natural obstacles and boundaries give children (and us!) access to risk and make them push their physical limits, take initiative and develop problem-solving skills. 

Pere and I have always chosen to take Onna to any of the places in the world which we would travel to. We wanted to create and strengthen a strong family bond based on love. Togetherness and nature seem to be an excellent combination to cherish our family bond. 

When we began our self-isolation period, we didn’t think Onna would have other children around her to play with. We didn’t want to restrict her to an adult world, so we thought it would be good to teach her how to read and write. Reading easy books or creating little stories would give her a good way to submerge herself in her own child like fantasy world. 

Over the first couple of weeks I watched her whilst playing and tried to teach her letters and sounds. Also, I taught her to sing new Dutch songs, which she enjoyed a lot and gave her confidence.

On the day we arrived whilst we were constructing our roof with bamboo and rope, she created a crocodile out of a piece of bamboo. She instructed us to make a lead for it from the rope and went for a walk with it. From then on, she nearly always walked around towing along her crocodile called Coco and we ended up building several different sized crocodiles for her to play with. 

The first couple of days, Onna became very irritated and annoyed by the great variety of insects. She was afraid of the ants and scared by the big spiders and wasps. Also, the crabs weren’t to her liking. Nevertheless, after some days she began to tolerate them and started to touch the crabs or let the small ants walk on her arms to experience the itchy sensation they cause.

Then, we met the 8-year-old Kristtel. On meeting her I knew instantly that the girls would love playing with each other. Instead of staying with us, Kristtel ran away and climbed up a tree. From there she called out in Spanish: “Grrrrrr, I’m a puma!”

Her house and our camp were only 500m away from each other, so we started to visit Kristtel nearly every day to let the girls play. They played many imaginary games running fast and climbing in trees, they prepared themselves natural salads with all sorts of edible leaves, seeds and flowers, created small pieces of art with naturals objects or played with small creatures like spiders, bugs, crabs, ants, lizards, … 

Kristtel is a courageous, energetic, generous and self-confident girl. She was very gentle and loving with Onna. She had lived in the jungle for a long time now and she was very skilful in terms of natural survival. She was like a Tarzan in the jungle. In case you wonder, she had just started living with her uncle and aunt so she could go to school. However, due to the Covid-19 the schools had been closed and a month after having left her parents she had gone back to the jungle with her parents and little sister. She was now doing home-schooling.  

Onna and Kristtel had an amazing time together. They built a deep friendship, which may last forever.

Personally, I have to admit that she became very dear to my heart too. 

Verena, Don Agustín’s granddaughter, was another playmate for Onna. The games they played were very different from those that Kristtel and Onna played. Whereas Kristtel showed Onna the wilderness, Verena’s games were more domesticated. They mainly played pretend play like playing mummies.   

I’m convinced that the whole experience has been one of the greatest learning experiences we have been able to offer her. Now we’ve moved on, I notice the way in which it has shaped her, hopefully forever.  

 

Training 

Our training has been a leading treat during our journey. We’ve always moved according to our needs to train or achieve a personal goal. When we arrived to Costa Rica and settled in our place of self-isolation, we knew for sure that we would have the technical jungle path to train on. We considered that we could do the flat and fast training sessions on the stony beach at low tide and when we explored the area, we also discovered a level, not very well-looked-after path of approximately 1km just behind the palm trees which separate the beach from the jungle. We were well aware that many people from all over the world were closed in their homes between four walls and even though we expected that life wouldn’t be easy for us either, we felt fortunate to be able to run outside in nature.

We talked to our trainer Rafa, and adapted our training scheme to the circumstances. The things we had to take into account mostly were our health and the high humidity. We decided that it was more effective to reduce the volume of the training sessions in general as it was a lot more exhausting to run in this sweaty climate. Most runs had a duration of 45min to 1 hour and 15 min. Furthermore, when we did interval trainings, the recovery time between the intervals was longer and we did less repetitions. 

We had flat and mountainous terrain with a steep climb of 400m of incline, but we realized that it was all technical terrain. We didn’t have any easy runnable circuits in order to run fast. The beach was very stony and irregular because of the freshwater streams which gave the beach a very undulated surface. The path behind the palm trees was flattish but had the tendency to go slightly up and down constantly, tracing smooth zig-zag curves between the trees. The jungle path was steep, slippery and technical with lots of roots, loose branches and natural obstacles like fallen trees or low hanging branches. Also, the atmosphere was even more stifling in the jungle.

For me it was challenging, but I decided to make the most of it and to work on my technical skills. I also started to train with my Leki poles regularly to train myself to use them in the right way and to benefit from running with poles in future races.  

We combined the running sessions with core and functional training and we did specific workouts to improve our running technique. We could use the sea and the beach for this too, performing exercises in the water or on the different types of sand on the beach (stony, loose, hard). 

 

Running for food

Around three weeks after installing us in our camp, we started to get short of provisions. We had to think of a Covid-19 proof way to get new basic foods like rice, spaghettis, tomato sauce, marmalade, etc. 

We contacted Albert, who lives in Golfito and asked him if he could help us out by going to the supermarket for us and meet us with the shopping at the gravel road which leads to Golfito. In Golfito there weren’t any registered cases of Corona, but he understood that we didn’t want to leave the wilderness and agreed to assist us. We would go running along the jungle path until reaching another trail that crosses with the gravel road where we would meet Albert.

We started to do weekly runs through the jungle to get provisions. It was a long run of about 22km along technical and almost inaccessible trails. I can understand why nobody dares to go along these paths to reach the semi-deserted beach. Vice versa, no one from the beach ever used the trails to get to Golfito, with the exception of Don Agustín, who sometimes walked to the village and then took the boat back. 

Anyway, it was a beautiful run with several stream crossings and opportunities to see Costa Rican’s wildlife. We always went together on our food runs. Onna either stayed with Julen or with Yorlenny, Kristtel’s mum. 

Going out was the most athletic and enjoyable part and with the exception of some snacks and some hydration flasks our back packs were empty. On our way back we carried a heavy load. Especially the cans of conserves were uncomfortable to carry and weighed a lot.

When we met Albert, we respected the measures of social distancing and disinfected all the foods. Before running back, we ate a cold yoghurt, which was a ritual we would be looking forward to during the entire week. We also brought some yoghurts to our camp, but they weren’t cold anymore on arrival and therefore only half as tasty…

After some weeks had passed, we decided to do our shopping ourselves. There weren’t any cases of Covid-19 in the village and we wanted to be more independent and check out some new products. One of the new products we bought were “frigoles molidos”, for example.

Going all the way to the supermarket meant that we had to run a distance of 34km with 1600m of incline. Especially on the way back, these long runs became tough and often turned into real mental trainings trying to keep our minds positive and to control bad moods, irritableness, physical weakness, etc. For me, the hardest aspect was the heat. Sometimes, my body was so overheated that I couldn’t even think clearly anymore.

In any case, we LOVE challenges, so during one of these long runs, we had the idea to set up a personal challenge!

We wanted to be respectful towards the people who were confined inside their homes, so we decided to do the challenge in a limited amount of space. We wanted it to encompass and treflect our current conditions and lifestyle too, so we agreed that we should run the whole day, from sunrise to sunset. We liked the idea of starting as low as possible and climbing as high as our path went as this is a key feature of skyrunning.

Now the formula was clear. We would run during 12 hours and 27 minutes, from 5:16 until 17:43, starting next to the sea and running up the jungle path until reaching its highest point, running back down until reaching the sea, and up again. The challenge consisted of doing as many climbs and descends as possible within the allowed time span.

The distance of one block was of approximately 4,6km and had 410m of positive and 410m of negative incline.

Pere chose to be the first one to run the challenge, which we’d called Sun to Sun. He ran it on the 2nd May and I ran it two days later on Monday the 4th.

It turned out to be one of the toughest challenges we’d ever done! Pere managed to do 15 ups and downs! I think this is a great result which would be hard to beat. I think it shows clearly how well he had adapted his physical and mental fitness to the hot humid conditions and terrain. Pere’s sub challenge was to manage well the aspects of eating and drinking. This often is a problematic issue when he races and the challenge was an ideal occasion to practice different strategies. When he finished, he said we may have gone a bit far by creating such a hard challenge. We could have done something easier to achieve…  Anyway, he may have been exhausted, but he was pleased and satisfied too.

I managed to do 13.5 ups and downs, which I guess is a similar result to Pere’s. For me, the hardest aspects were the technicality and the steepness of the path as well as the exhausting heat! My quads were aching in the afternoon, which I noticed especially on the downhills. The sweat caused me sores from the rubbing and on various occasions I really needed to jump into the sea to cool my body down. I like to surpass myself though and I think I couldn’t have found a more challenging way to do so!!  

One week after accomplishing our challenge we left our place of self-isolation. By then, the restrictions had become milder and some of the national parks had been opened to 50% of their capacity. We wanted to explore some of the volcanoes and conclude our adventure in Central America, even though our journey continued in Costa Rica. Sergio, who we knew through the VUM (Volcano Ultra Marathon), took us to Santa Ana, to Julio and Gaby’s house. Meeting them was something we had planned for in the first days of our stay in Costa Rica, but due to the Covid-19, all of us preferred to avoid close contact and so we had postponed seeing each other. Finally meeting our friends at the end of our episode felt like completing some kind of circle.